A major goal of the Roma to the Nations consultation was to inspire and motivate leaders in the global Chinese church to reach out to the Roma. This shaped the dialogue in a unique way. During the consultation, Chinese pastors offered meditations on Scripture, which shine a light on the deeper thinking that is emerging out of this unique multicultural engagement and initiative.
I have learned over experience the great value of hearing Scripture read and interprested though the eyes of believers from other cultures. We can be so blinded when our own knowledge becomes a limiting horizon.
I’ve sat in many worship services where sermons have been the “main event,” enough to know which passages would make the “Evangelical Top 100” and why. I’ve easily heard a dozen sermons on Philippians 2… pretty much all of which focused on Christology – doctrinal formulations about what it meant for Jesus to be “in very nature God,” or the Incarnation: what does it mean that Jesus was “made in human likeness.” I don’t think I ever heard this passage preached as a “mission passage.”
I have now.
The opening message at the first main session was delivered by Pastor Kai Xing, the senior pastor of the Hungarian Chinese Christian Church. He himself, if I recall correctly is Mongolian.
He drew from this passage not a “generic” missionary call, but one – again, predominantly directed at a Chinese(!) audience – focused on Roma ministry:
- Patterned after Christ’s humility, we identify with the Roma people
- Patterned after Christ’s obedience, we sacrifice for the Roma people
As with Pastor Wang’s explanation of the “gospel debt” he feels toward the Roma, I was, first, struck by what God has accomplished in turning the hearts of these Chinese leaders. But secondly, I was humbled and chastened by a conviction that certainly we (i.e., I and others like me) should be feeling this burden even more acutely… but we are not.
Here’s some of what he shared: I think the applications for us as Western Christians are obvious. Do you see them too?
We who follow Jesus cannot be bystanders here, because we enter into the mind of Christ. So that which touches Him, we feel. We share HIS process of identifying with others.
The vision of our Chinese churches in Europe, particularly eastern Europe, is “very fragile.” We are not free with our use of resources. We are only concerned with our own people. We are convinced that our own methods are the best, the only acceptable ones. We don’t have enough resources to share, to spend on reaching out.
But that does not reflect the heart and mind of Christ.
Christ set aside his privilege – that’s what “He emptied Himself” means. He put aside His glory; it was hidden from us. This process of Christ’s identifying with us was essential to our ability to receive the Gospel from Him.
What must it mean to “help the Roma”? It must mean accepting them, identifying with who they are. We live together with Roma on the same land, but have only superficial contact. This gives us a ‘negative understanding’ that leads to bias and prejudice. Despising their way of life, we close our hearts and close the doors of our homes and churches to them because of their “lower form of life.”
When first visiting a Roma village, I was struck by how humble and dirty it seemed to me. What a filthy place, I thought. But almost immediately My second impression was deep conviction that I was more impressed by that superficial difference than I was with the filth of my own prejudiced, self-centered heart as compared to the heart and mind of Christ, who set aside EVERYTHING for me.
We cannot see the Roma (or anyone) with Christ’s eyes until we allow Him to change our own filthy hearts. If our hearts do not change, our eyes do not change.
If Christ’s obedience is our pattern, then we must be willing to sacrifice for the Roma people. Are we willing to die for the Roma? If not, it’s all superficial.
There are so many Chinese churches, yet so few have responded. May God have mercy on us for the immaturity and narrowmindedness of our churches. We have become prosperous, materially and spiritually. That gives us an “undeniable responsibility” to those in need around us. We need to go beyond our ethnicity and give to those in Europe who are in need.
I pray that you, prayerful reader, will allow these words to touch your heart – wherever you happen to come from. As an American who has worked largely among the ‘majority’ population, I have been liberally blessed with shelter and food, I have never had to struggle with being cast as an outsider, as subhuman. I have never been in a living situation that other people might have experienced as “filthy” (despite what my Mom might have said about my bedroom as a teenager). I hear God speaking to my heart – directly – through the pages of Scripture as my Chinese brother applies it to his own… I am moved to repent for the hardheartedness of my own people, my own “white” churches as I hear God move among the Chinese.
The self is a difficult master and it uses comfort to keep us on a short leash. I am humbled when I see these Chinese brothers and sisters living in Europe struggling with the burden of the Roma at the margins… when we Westerners and Europeans have ignored them (or worse) for centuries. At the same time, we in the West in – who have so much more – do not seem to be participating in this struggle. ON the contrary, we have become quite skilled at insulating ourselves from such concerns.
We need a living, daily relationship with the Eternal to break our chains and set us free.